The theater world has lost a vibrant light.
Samuel G. Roberson Jr., an actor, writer, director and theater leader who cut his teeth in the Twin Cities before moving to Chicago where he became artistic director of Congo Square Theatre, died Sunday in the Windy City. He was 34.
Roberson had battled health problems over the past several years, including leukemia. He also had had heart and lung transplants.
As news of Roberson's death spread, social media lit up with tributes. One poster dubbed him “a champion of talent and perseverance.” Twin Cities performer and composer Annie Enneking described him as “warm and fierce and generous.” Actor Michael Patrick Thornton described him as “incisive” and “wickedly hilarious.”
Raised in the Bay Area, Roberson studied theater arts at Howard University before moving to the Twin Cities to become a performing apprentice at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC). For CTC, he acted in such productions as “Bud, Not Buddy,” “Antigone” and “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” CTC artistic director Peter Brosius, reached in South Africa where he has taken his company's production of "Seedfolks" to big international festival, praised Roberson for his talents and his affecting humanity.
"He was a remarkable actor — so open, so present, and so fiercely intelligent," said Brosius. "His warmth and generosity infused joy into the entire organization. Sam also wrote plays that were tender, surprising pieces, so nuanced and well observed."
During his three years in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Roberson also worked at Pillsbury House Theatre and the Illusion, which premiered his play “Same Difference” in 2008.
"Sam is a light — he's someone who's shining from the inside out," Bonnie Morris, the Illusion’s producing director, said at the time.
Roberson was keenly interested in using theater to deepen civic and social justice engagement. That was most evident in his role as artistic director of Congo Square Theatre, a plucky, inventive African-American troupe that staged high-impact productions of the works of August Wilson.
Roberson also cut quite a figure on Chicago stages, performing at the Goodman Theater (“The Ballad of Emmett Till”), Steppenwolf (“Samuel J and K”) and Victory Gardens (“The Lost Boys of Sudan),” among others.
His survivors include his wife, Ashley, who also went to Howard.
On Facebook, Twin Cities actor Zach Curtis posted a message to the city where Roberson moved after living in Minnesota: “Chicago, we were sad to see him go to you, but we knew you were lucky people to get him,” Curtis said. “Now, I'm sad to see him go from you, and from us all.”